Britain: After the riots, poor criminalised and repressed

Issue 
'Give Our Kids a Future North London Unity' march from Hackney to Tottenham on August 13. About 2000 people took part. Photo fro

Living in north London, I often travel via the interchange in Tottenham. Walking between stations I found myself on Ferry Lane Bridge on the evening of August 14, the spot where Mark Duggan was shot by police on August 4.

It was the police response to community protests on August 6 demanding answers to Duggan's shootings that sparked days of rioting.

The memorial is unmissable. Tens of bunches of flowers and a great many cards, messages and personal items strewn across the bridge.

I was struck by one particular card: “Dear Mark, We miss you. So many people are thinking about you, it’s incredible.”

I couldn’t quite get over how true that was.

Across the world, people are noticing the death of a well-known and respected black man from north London, and many continue fighting for him and many like him on the streets.

I was in Tottenham for ten minutes and in that time saw six police vans, sirens blaring. It wasn’t a riot. This is a normal day in Tottenham.

See also:
Race, class and cuts: the roots of England's riots
Tariq Ali on the riots: why here and now?
British riots: A crisis of ideology and political leadership
An open letter to David Cameron's parents
The rioters on Wall Street

On August 6, a group of friends and locals started gathering at the front of Tottenham Police station, anxious and angry about the shooting of Duggan two days earlier.

People had been promised that a senior police sergeant would come and address the group, and provide some explanation about why this man had been shot in the head in broad daylight.

(The Independent Police Complaints Commission have since admitted it may have “inadvertently” misled the media in to believing Duggan shot at police — he didn’t.)

No one ever came, and even now his family are still waiting for those same answers.

The group sent infuriated text messages, social media messages and made calls to get people down to increase the pressure on the police to get the family the justice they deserved.

As the hours passed, the numbers swelled and so did the atmosphere of outrage, pain, helplessness and fury.

There were rumours a 14-year-old girl threw a rock at the police and was leapt upon by four officers and badly injured in the scuffle. The riot began.

Bricks were hurled, cars and buses set alight, shop front windows shattered.

This was met with more police violence and followed by more damage to chain stores, heritage listed buildings, police stations and homes.

The rioting spread over the next four nights, through Clapham, Hackney, Wandsworth, Greenwich, Fulham, Wood Green, Finsbury Park — then out of London in Nottingham, Birmingham, Bristol and Manchester.

In some ways, the causes of this explosion on the streets are straight forward.

In an interview with a 16-year-old gang member called Joe in Hackney, Joe explained: “I knew it was going to happen. It’s the police.

“I hate them. Everyone hates them. They stop and search me about 20 times a day.”

In other ways, the causes are a more complex web that includes: everyday and institutionalised racism; the “austerity measures” that have closed down youth clubs across the capital that are usually booked out in poor boroughs over the summer holidays; the blatant culture of inequality that sees Rupert Murdoch and the bankers commit crimes but go free while others that cannot afford to eat are charged with benefit fraud for trying to make ends meet; and the lack of opportunity to change your economic situation when it’s so impossible to get work if you have a criminal record.

Tottenham and Hackney are two of the poorest places in London. Tottenham has the highest rate of unemployment in London and half of Hackney’s children live in poverty.

Both places are known as a “clearing house” for many of London’s asylum seekers and refugees.

But while the fires have now been put out, the criminalisation of poverty has only increased.

The borough of Wandsworth has decided to follow the Tory strategy of cutting benefits and evicting families of rioters and looters. The first eviction notice has been served to the mother of an 18-year-old man in Wandsworth — though he is yet to be convicted of any crime.

The decision of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat government to push to make rioters and their families homeless and without access to welfare is a decision to strengthen the same tinder box that started the fire on August 6.

They are stoking the fire of inequality.

The struggle to defend the housing of rioters has yet to begin. Watch this space.

Just like for those that the London Metropolitan Police “made examples of” (read: inexplicably punished) after the large student protests late last year, the jail sentences for rioters have been extreme.

In Manchester, the police were forced to apologise for their gleeful tweeting about a mother of two who hasn't been involved in the riots, but was jailed for five months for accepting a looted pair of sneakers.

The police tweet finished with “No excuses!”. But they seem to have excused themselves from any role in the starting/continuing of the riots.

The Tories and right-wing press continue to bleat that the riots were caused by a lack of individual responsibility from those involved and their parents.

They say “it’s simple”. People need to show “loyalty” to the places they live, if they want to claim unemployment benefits and have somewhere to live.





That “loyalty” was obviously less important for the politicians that stole hundreds of thousands of pounds from their constituents during the expenses scandal.

It was less important for the bankers who looted billions from the public pocket during the bailouts, and for the politicians who put NHS services up for private contracting — despite their wives being on the board of the bidding companies.

What the Conservatives mean is that they need loyalty to the status-quo. But the pressure is mounting.

When even the most insipid and flaccid of coalition partners, the Liberal Democrat’s feel under pressure to publish articles entitled “Profits must no longer go to a few at the top” (in the August 14 Guardian ), you know that the public’s anger at life under the current murderous, racist system is well overdue to change in to action on the streets.

Public demonstrations, such as those that took place in Tottenham on August 13 called “Give our Children a Future” called by angry and politicised locals, are a good opportunity to show solidarity and make alliances with those stepping things up in north London.

By involving ourselves with local actions such as those taken by the Turkish Kurdish community in North east London (see video of their demonstration below), we can begin to make clear that the only way to stop the police opening fire on young men of colour in the street is by demonstrating that ordinary people can do a much better job of organising society than Britain's capitalist police state ever will.

May the summer of social change begin.


Give Our Kids a Future 4 by benkamorvan

Above and below: Video of 'Give Our Kid's a Future North London Unity' march in north London from Hackney to Tottenham on August 13 that involved about 2000 people. Videos are taken from http://benkainlondon.tumblr.com -- where more footage of the march can be seen.

Give Our Kids a Future 3 by benkamorvan


Turkish and Kurdish community activists give a press conference in response to the riots in England and the media and police response. Activist condemned British police and media for trying to clash Turkish and Kurdish community with black and other ethnic minorities.

Comments

I was born and bread in hackney so i know how bad it is over there they have to putt lots of cash in north London it needs it badly

Rupert Murdoch has committed a crime? Really? No doubt you have the proof of this to hand to the police!

What, the same police force in Murdoch's pocket?